2018 NHL Playoffs – Second Round Predictions
The opening round of the 2018 NHL Playoffs is finally over and the match-ups are set for the second round. Here’s a brief preview and predictions for each series. For those keeping track, I was six for eight in the opening round.
Nashville Predators vs Winnipeg Jets. The Predators had their hands full with the Colorado Avalanche but finally eliminated the plucky underdog in six games. The Jets made short work of the Minnesota Wild in five games.
This series could be the best of the second round. Both clubs carry considerable depth in talent, finishing first and second respectively in the Western Conference standings. The Predators struggled at times to contain Colorado’s best forwards in the opening round, while the Jets’ penalty kill was average at best against the Wild. The 2018 Presidents’ Trophy winning Predators have the edge in experience, having marched to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, while most of the Jets have only one or two playoff rounds under their belts. That could tilt this series in favor of Nashville. Prediction: Predators in seven.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Boston Bruins: The Lightning downed the rebuilding New Jersey Devils in five games. The Bruins emerged victorious over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the only opening-round series to go seven games.
This contest features the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins won the regular-season series 3-1, but of course that stat goes out the window in the playoffs. Both clubs carry potent offenses but they also have their weaknesses. Inconsistent goaltending by Tuukka Rask and sloppy defense contributed to the Bruins’ struggles against the Leafs, while the Lightning have also had defensive issues, especially on the penalty kill and in the faceoff circle. The Bolts’ scoring punch(led by Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos) and the improved play of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy should enable them to defeat the Bruins. Prediction: Lightning in six.
Vegas Golden Knights vs San Jose Sharks. The expansion Golden Knights’ became the first team in its inaugural season to sweep an opening-round series by bouncing the Los Angeles Kings in four straight. The Sharks, meanwhile, dispatched the Anaheim Ducks in four games.
This should be an entertaining series between two clubs that used their speed to oust their slower opponents in the previous round. The goaltending duel between the Golden Knights’ Marc-Andre Fleury and the Sharks’ Martin Jones could become a factor in this series. Special teams could also play a big role, as Vegas had the best penalty-killing percentage (92.3) of the opening round while the Sharks had the third-best power-play (30.0). While the Sharks have more postseason experience as a team, it’s foolhardy to underestimate the Golden Knights. Prediction: Golden Knights in six.
Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins. The Capitals rallied from a 2-0 series deficit to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets in six games. The defending Cup champion Penguins needed six games to beat the Philadelphia Flyers.
For the third straight year and the fourth time since 2009, the Capitals and Penguins face off in the second round. While the Penguins won each of those previous series, the Capitals enter this one riding the momentum of their opening-round rally over the Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh was the highest-scoring team in the first round but the Capitals finished right behind them. Much of the focus will be on Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, but goaltending could be the key to this series. The Penguins’ Matt Murray gave up 13 goals to the Flyers and looked a little shaky at times, while Capitals netminder Braden Holtby sported a 1.92 GAA and .932 SP against the Blue Jackets. If Holtby remains hot, the Capitals could prevail. Prediction: Capitals in seven.